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From my final year school placement and from reading back over some of my reflections, a topic of interest of mine was “the perceptions and role of technology education”. On placement I made observations relating to the timetabling of the subjects, demographic of the class groups along with beliefs teachers and students had surrounding Technology Education and the role they play in education.
From these observations and thoughts, I derived a topic for my research and a research problem. The problem was perceptions of technology subjects. This is a topic of interest and relevance to myself as a soon to be newly qualified teacher of technology education and my emerging teacher identity. Often when on school placement I was met with stereotypes and misconceptions relating to the aims and objectives of technology education often by people who had not studied the subjects. As a result, I was interested in gaining a better insight into what these perceptions were along with their origins.
Now that I had a broad topic, I was faced with the issue of refining and narrowing it into a problem statement and research question. In order to do this, I needed to decide who would participate in the study, where the research would be carried out, what they would do, when they would do it and for how long. The study would be of first year second level technology students. They would be given a survey before and after participation in a taster module of the subject. The rationale behind this was to see if their perceptions of the subjects changed, whether they changed positively or negatively and what factors may have affected this.
With this in mind, I began searching for other research and articles in a similar area. This lead me to the “Pupils Attitudes Toward Technology” survey. From my reading in this area I decided to rephrase my research question slightly. Rather than pupils’ perceptions, I would instead look into pupils’ attitudes toward technology education.
Research questions: “What are pupils’ attitudes towards technology education at first year post primary level, before and after a subject taster programme”
When undertaking any form of research, the protection of the participants in the study is of paramount concern. In terms of protection from harm, within this study it is not of notable concern. The participants will simply go about their regular school routine within the technology classroom thus not exposing them to any additional risk. The survey that students will take at the beginning and conclusion of the research will does contain any questions or content which may cause psychological harm to vulnerable populations within the participants. However, Questions relating to the gender of participants will be gathered. This is a potential area of sensitivity, particularly for adolescents and the inclusion of options other than “male” and “female” for this question of the survey will need to be taken into account.
With regard to participation, as this research will take place in a second level school environment with participants under the age of 18. Consent will need to be sought from parents or legal guardians (appendix 7.1). And informed consent from (appendix 7.2) will be sought from the participants who will be asked for their assent. An information sheet will be given to students before they decide if they wish to participate or not. This information sheet (appendix 7.3) outlines what the study entails and any concerns participants may have. Concerns such as privacy and how their data is stored.
The national teaching council website outlines 5 priority areas of research. One of these areas is pedagogy. In terms of this particular research question, a hypothesis would be that the pedagogical approach and values held by the technology teacher have a major bearing on the attitudes that their pupils hold toward technology education. Some technology teacher may still view the subject as vocational with the goal a mastering skill and process for industry where as another teacher possibly more recently qualified may place more emphasis on technological capability and literacy
Another priority area, “Teaching in a changing society”, is applicable to this particular research. Technology by definition is constantly changing thus technology education must adapt and constantly change with it. Today’s pupils are “digital natives (Prensky, 2001) meaning they have grown up immersed in technology. This research may provide insight into how effective current technology subjects are at engaging these digital natives based on their attitudes toward the subjects.
Vocational education stems from the belief that there those who are better suited to physical activity and those who are more suited to mental activity. This can be traced back to the times of Plato (428-347 BCE). Plato believed that there were two types of knowledgeable activity: “Techne”, which was more psychomotor skills related and “Phronesis” which was more concerned with cognitive skills and wisdom. Dakers (2005) proposed this as the possible origins for the academic versus vocational divide.
Through the medieval times, the formation of guilds and the master apprentice system is one of the earliest forms of vocational training and education. “The title of master was the only written evidence of competence, while ‘certificates of apprenticeship’ confirmed completion of the first stage of training” (Wollschläger, 2002). Formal education according to (J. Dakers, n.d.) was primarily fee paying, thought through Latin making it elitist and inaccessible to the lower classes. This idea of academic subjects being for the upper classes and vocational training for the lower is at the core of the attitudes held surround vocational education.
Like in medieval times as mentioned above, according to Owen-Jackson (2000) technology subjects original focus were “concerned only with the passing on to pupils’ traditional knowledge and skills. Pupils were required only to learn the knowledge, not to understand it, and to copy and practise the making skills’’.
Many of the perceptions held today surrounding technology education stem from its vocational history. Today’s technology subjects are “inextricably bound” to their vocation history (NCAA, 2017). In the late 1920s and 1930 the state was providing two forms of post primary schooling. The secondary school and the vocational school. Initially vocational schools were the only schools to offer Metalwork and Woodwork.
There was a clear divide in curricula between the secondary school and vocational school. Prior to the 1960s, vocational schools had no access to the intermediate or leaving certificate. Third level instituted were also unwilling to accept the practical subjects for matriculation purposes resulting in no access to third level institutes. This can be attributed to the cause of today’s subjects being perceived as having less educational value. According to (Leahy & Phelan, 2014), (Wolf, 2011) and Dakers (2005), technology education, as an academic subject, is classified by many as the poor relation and for those who are intellectually less capable.
In Ireland the emphasis in technology subjects is high on craft based skills, particularly within in Metalwork (Leahy & Phelan, 2014). This is something echoed by De Vries in Layton (1994) where he classifies technology education in Ireland as having a “craft-oriented approach”. Carty & Phelan, (2006) argued there may be room for design depending on the teacher pedagogy. Most recent reform of technology education saw a shift away from solely craft based skills and the incorporation of design and problem-solving skills in technology education. According to (Leahy & Phelan, 2014) This reform displayed many characteristics similar to the Finnish Technology Education model, which is mainly a design approach that has evolved from the craft-oriented approach (Alamaki 2000, pp. 19–23).
At present with the move towards holistic design based education, both (Leahy & Phelan, 2014) and (McGarr, 2010) argue that there are still aspects of vocational education within technology education. These aspects are impacting on critical thinking and resulting in design being artefact or product focused rather than problem/process focused. A cause of this which Carty & Phelan (2006) alluded to is pedagogy. According to Dakers (2005), the hegemonic beliefs that the technology teacher holds will greatly influence what students perceive as the purpose of technology education. If the teacher adopts a behaviourist approach rather than a constructivist approach it will result in a passive way of thinking. The students of a behaviourist teacher will attempt to go will attempt to go from problem directly to solution without any meaningful thought or discussion.
Having investigated above the origins and causes of some of the perceptions and attitudes held toward technology education, I was then lead toward what research has been conducted in the area of pupil attitudes. In 1984 in the Netherlands research began in the area of pupils’ attitudes toward technology (PATT). Raat and de Vries (1985) found that students only had a vague idea of what technology was that girls were less interested and placed less importance on it. This study was translated into English with the help of Dr Marc de Vries and replicated by Drs William E. Dugger and Allen Bame in the united states. The PATT survey uses a Likert questionnaire (appendix 7.4) to measure attitudes to statements surrounding technology. The factors measured were (1) General interest in Technology, (2) Attitude Towards Technology, (3) Technology as an Activity for both Girls and Boys, (4) consequences of Technology, and (5) Technology is difficult. Similar to Raat and de Vries (1985) findings, Bame et al (1993) found that pupils had neither exact nor broad knowledge of technology and attitudes. According to Ardies (2013) the instrument has been validated and used in several countries around the world.
In 1998 Boser et al used the PATT survey in more technology education specific way. They noted that the questionnaire had not been used to assess if participation in a technology education program would change attitudes. One of the research problems of this study was a query on what impact the instructional approach used to deliver technology education affected pupils attitude, something Dakers (2005) alluded to with his hegemonic behaviourist theory and referred to by Dow (2006) when discussing implicit theories on pedagogy.
The aims of this study were to explore what changes, if any occurred in first year pupils’ attitudes toward technology education after engaging in technology education. Below are some of the guiding research questions of the study:
- Do pupils’ attitudes change as a result of engagement in technology education?
- Are there differences in attitudes toward technology education in male and female students as a based on engagement with technology education?
- What impact does the teachers pedagogy and beliefs have on pupils attitudes toward technology?
From section two, the literature review it was clear the majority of research in this area has utilised Dr William E Duggers’ PATT-USA survey (appendix 7.4). The survey uses a Likert scale to measure intensity of feeling towards various statements relating to technology. It has been validated and used in several other studies in the area including Volk and Ming, (1999), Ankiewicz & Van Rensburg (2001), Becker and Maunsaiyat, (2002) and Chikasanda, Williams, Otrel-Cass & Jones (2011). For this study, the PATT-USA survey would be adopted in order to validate its findings and in order to be able to draw comparisons with other research in the area.
The advantages of using this survey method are it allows for repeatability and can be implemented using a pre-test post-test design. The students would be given the survey before and after the subject taster programme. The ordinal quantitative data gathered would be analysed in a number of ways which will be discussed later in this section.
The participants of this study would be N=96 first year second level students of a particular secondary school. The participants will be a mix of male and female students between the age of 12 and 14, predominantly of Irish ethnicity. As the study is made up of a population of less than 100 students, sampling will not be used. Mertler (2018), recommends for small populations that the entire population should be studied. The rationale behind 96 students being selected is the that an average technology class would have 24 students. 96 students would allow a sample to be taken from 24 students in each of the 4 junior cycle technology subjects. The students will be given a questionnaire/survey before engagement with the technology education in the taster programme.
The survey would be distributed by class teachers in paper form. At the conclusion of the taster programme (8 weeks), students will be asked to repeat the survey. Instructions would be provided to the teacher advising them to administer the survey during the same lesson at the beginning of class. The teacher would be asked to give the survey out under the same conditions both pre and post-test to improve reliability.
The author of the PATT-USA survey, Dr William E. Duggers’ permissions would need to be sought to use or adapt the instrument (appendix 7.5) For this study a modified version of the PATT USA would be used. As the PATT USA is intended for American students, the language it uses would need to be phrased for the Irish school context. This modification is advised by Bame et al. (1993).
The survey instrument is made up of 4 sections. Part one students are for a short description of what technology is. While this would provide authentic responses, would prove more difficult to process. For this reason, part one would be removed from the modified instrument. Part two contains eleven questions which gather information on the participant demographic. This section would also need to be modified to due to ethics and privacy. Part 3 contains 57
statements (No. 12-69). This uses a five part, Likert scale to assess students’
attitudes toward technology. Part 4 contains 31 statements (No. 70 -100). This uses a three-part, Likert scale to assess students’ Concept of Technology.
The PATT-USA survey is composed of six subscales. 5 of which are concerned with perceptions in part 3. These are:
• General Interest in Technology.
• Attitude Toward Technology.
• Technology as an Activity for Boys and Girls.
• Consequences of Technology.
• Technology is Difficult
The sixth subscale is in part 4 and is concerned with pupils’ understanding of the role of technology in shaping our world.
Several statistical analysis methods would be used to analyse the data collected from the survey. These methods would be the same methods use by previous PATT-USA studies such as Bame & Dugger, (1989) and Boser et al. (1998):
- A factorial analysis would be carried out on all statements in part 3 and 4 (No 12-69) to validate item grouping of subscales.
- A Guttman analysis would be carried out on part 4 (No. 70-100) to assess internal reliability.
- T-tests would be used to ascertain changes in pre-test and post-test attitudinal responses to the subscales.
- Multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) would be used to analyse difference in attitudes to subscales based on gender.
The analysed data would be presented through scree plots and tables.
The main limitation of this Study would be the scale. With such a small sample of 96 students all from a single secondary school, it will not be a large enough to be representative of a larger population. Ideally the study could be carried out in multiple schools which could allow for more randomisation of participants. It would also provide more data on which the question of teacher pedagogy’s effect on pupils’ attitudes by having a wider selection of teachers involved.
As I referred to in the literature review, there are still aspects of technology education which are still seen as vocational and contributing to certain attitudes toward the subjects. The behaviourist pedagogy that Dakers (2005) and Dow (2006) refer to is a major aspect of this and is preventing technology education reaching it potential as a subject based on problem solving design and critical thinking.
Research similar to that which is proposed in this study could be used to inform practicing teachers about the effect their pedagogy has on pupils’ attitudes. In doing so a teacher would be engaging in reflective practice as a basis for development (Hammersley, 1993).
If a teacher was to carry out action research in their classroom using an instrument similar to a PATT survey the data could be used to inform and improve their pedagogy. For example, if the teacher was aware that their teaching methods were more behaviourist than constructivist they could try adopting one approach with one class group and a different for another class. Survey data from the different class groups could be collected and compared to inform the teacher if in fact by moving to a constructivist pedagogy they had positively or negatively changed their pupils’ attitudes toward technology.
The research carried out in a study such as this aligns with several of the teaching councils’ priority areas for research, something I touched upon in section one such as the continuum of learning, teaching in a changing society and pedagogy.
In terms of curriculum challenges, the implication of this study and other research in the area is that the findings could possibly be used to help inform change in the assessment methods of the technology curriculum.
At present the assessment methods of the technology and the aims of the curriculum are at odds with each other. Since the reforms in technology education in 2006 which I referred to in the literature review, the aims of technology education are more concerned with the development of technological capability and literacy as opposed to mastering craft skills. Design and problem solving are key aspects of the reformed curriculum, however the rigid assessment criteria are having a major impact on both pedagogy and pupils’ attitudes. Williams (2000) notes that design problems often contain more variables than can be represented in a sequence or loop. Even though this is the case and design is an iterative process rather than linear, it is presented as system of steps laid out to meet assessment criteria.
If the assessment methods were changed to a more holistic approach such as the adaptive comparative judgement (ACJ) method described by Seery et al. (2012), pupils’ attitudes could be measured though the PATT-USA. The data from this could be compared with that from pupils whose work is graded under more ridged criteria.
Having completed the assignment, I want to now reflect on my experience. Having had no previous experience in carrying out a research study I was unsure of what it entailed. In the initial stages when attempting to identify a problem and a research topic, I found it somewhat of a struggle. I was fixated on the idea of finding a niche or original topic which hadn’t been researched before. After further consideration and engagement with the module I gained a better understanding of the purpose of research. With this clearer understanding, I opted to pursue a topic that was of personal interest. This decision in hindsight was the right choice. When carrying out research if you do not have an interest in the topic it is going to be a struggle motivate yourself to trawl and read through numerous papers, journals and articles.
This initial research topic was “How to pupils perceive technology education”. While this was a good place to start it was too vague. Something I hadn’t considered previously was how specific a research question needed to be, e.g. the participants, time frame etc. While the topic was of interest to me I was not aware of any studies or research conducted in the domain. One of the most useful new skills I learned throughout this module is related to finding sources and studied carried out on a topic. Initially I did not find any relevant studies related to “student perceptions” online. However, having learned how to search and refine searches data bases such as ERIC through the use of synonyms I found a plethora of research. While I had initially been using the word “perceptions” in my searches, a more suitable word was “attitudes”. Once I began to Search for information relating to “Pupils Attitudes” toward technology I was exposed all the information I needed to guide my own research. It was through this searching I discovered the PATT-USA survey which was probably the most important aspect in shaping this study and in the phrasing of my research question.
The act of carrying out a literature review was also an alien concept to me. During this assignment I learned how to look though articles and pick out key points from various sources and group them based on similar points. The funnel or cone design of starting out with the bigger picture and gradually reviewing literature more specific to your own study was a technique I found of great assistance.
In conclusion I feel that as I prepare to enter the realm of newly qualified teacher this experience has stood me well. With the teaching council pushing and encouraging teachers to engage in research, I now feel quite well equipped with the knowledge, skills needed to go about conducting research in an ethical and correct manner.
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